At the start of the postseason, a Tweet floated around the internet listing the New York Islanders as the oldest team in the bubble. The Islanders, whose average age is 28.9, have a handful of players in their mid-30s, helping to bring the age up. This was certainly a moment of reflection as the future of the team remains foggy. A flat salary cap and a number of restricted free agents needing new contracts may make some fans nervous and for good reason.
Aside from some players most likely leaving the team in the next season or two helping to bring that average age down, at this moment, things are coming together for this “old” squad. The mix of experience and their “we over me” mentality has created a mature team capable of a deep playoff run. (from ‘Islanders taking all-hands-on-deck approach into battle vs. Flyers, New York Post, 08/21/2020)
Veterans Lead by Example
When you think of veterans on the Islanders, no one would blame you for thinking about Johnny Boychuk, Andy Greene, Andrew Ladd, and Leo Komarov first. Though Boychuck and Ladd aren’t in the lineup, they provide some amazing experience winning Stanley Cups and going on deep playoff runs.
Their presence in the bubble will certainly play a role in this team moving passed the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. But as far as players on the ice who have been with the organization through thick and thin, one player is leading by example: Josh Bailey.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Bailey is truly leading the team this post-season, and not just in points — he has 10, putting him in a seven-way tie for sixth overall in the playoffs. That’s right, I’m eating crow. As much as I nit-pick his play, he’s stepping up at the right time for the Islanders, who just eliminated the Washington Capitals in five games.
It’s easy to forget Bailey, 30, is in his 12th season in the NHL and currently the longest-tenured Islander. The 2008 first-round (8th-overall) pick took a little longer to develop than many fans would have liked, albeit on some awful Islander squads. But, if we’re all being honest, plays like the one below were worth waiting for, especially on the league’s biggest stage.
For perspective, Bailey had just six points in eight playoff games last season, making this postseason a career year, which has at least four more games to go. Head coach, Barry Trotz, has recognized Bailey’s style and how he contributes.
“I think when the game gets quicker and more important, he has a quiet compete level that I’ve grown to appreciate,” Trotz said. “I think with Josh, he’s a quiet, very competitive, very intelligent hockey player that when the moment is big, he seems to be very relaxed and very poised.”From “Opinion: Love him or not, Josh Bailey’s clutch gene continues to show for Islanders,” AMNY, 8/12/2020
That quiet compete level has been important for this Islanders team in this playoff, not just on the scoresheet, but in the locker room and on the bench. The younger players need direction, and Bailey is helping to lead the way.
Young Stars Stepping up
Bailey’s leadership on the second line has proved to be just what Anthony Beauviuiller and Brock Nelson ordered in this postseason. While Mathew Barzal gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so, the second line has become the Isles’ leading scorers as well as the core of the second power play.
Nelson has had a great postseason so far, but Beauvillier has grown leaps and bounds, solidifying himself as one of the Islanders’ go-to forwards. At just 23, he’s matured into a steady player that steps up when the Islanders need it most. He scored two goals in each of the series-clinching games for the Islanders so far and will be Instrumental moving forward.
Balance and Composure
Not just a great band, one of the more impressive parts of the Islanders’ victory over the Capitals was their “balance and composure” throughout the series. There were the normal net-front shoving matches and, of course, Anders Lee’s fights in Game 1 in response to his hit on Nicklas Backstrom. Overall, though, the Islanders didn’t let the Caps’ agitators get to them, balancing their physical play to match what was needed game to game.
Then there were the bounce-back wins after a loss to close out both the Florida Panthers and Capitals series. Whether you call it composure, poise, or maturity, the Islanders showed they have what it takes to regroup after a loss, make necessary changes, and execute. A less-mature team without strong leaders behind the bench and in the locker room may have let things spiral out of control and instead of an article singing the praises of a great team, you would be reading a “season in review.”
The Islanders are going to need to continue the momentum they built up in the playoffs so far as they get set to face the Flyers. As long as the Islanders can stick to their game and not let the Flyers goad them into extracurricular activities, they’ll have a great chance to move on the Conference Final for the first time in decades.
Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers‘ authors James Nichols and Jon Zella with new episodes every Wednesday.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.